Should there be a Constitutional Convention? Some smart people, like my long time colleague Professor Gerald Benjamin, believe there ought to be. I have my doubts.
The premise being advanced by some very good people is that the New York State Constitution is a rambling graveyard for material that ought to be in statute, rather than in a Constitution. They are certainly right about that. People like Blair Horner, the lobbyist for the New York Public Interest Research Group and an expert on all things state, point out that there are all kinds of provisions in the State Constitution that have been declared invalid by higher courts.
If we had a Constitutional Convention and if the delegates did the right things, we would all be better off. There might, for instance, be a provision like the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which could replace the lieutenant governor, should that need arise. On the other hand, that could be done by just amending the Constitution right now.
The do-gooders might institute some kind of provision stipulating that legislators can’t run for delegate positions. But you’d have to be Mary Poppins to believe that they don’t all have a friend named “Louie” down the street who will do exactly what they are told when they are told to do it.
Every socio-political group will see this as an opportunity to get as much publicity for their causes as they can. The right-to-lifers will have a field day. The marijuana reform groups will get a lot of publicity, correctly insisting on our right to smoke weed, and so on. It will be a huge diversion from the mess that is ruining the Empire State. Let’s face it, a small, morally corrupt clique has gotten hold of the leadership positions in the State Senate and is milking them for all they are worth.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of improving the Constitution. I am writing this because for the first time in a long time, the voters are signaling through public opinion polls that they have had enough and want change. The people who wield power, whether they are called Senators or Assembly members, do not give it up easily. And when the last gavel has been banged, the same folks who were on top before such a convention will be running things when the smoke clears.
That’s why you will see some of the very miscreants who are running the State Senate back a convention, as well as many in the Legislature’s minority parties, who have been screwed to the wall by the majority. They have nothing to lose. I think we may just get a convention. But if it goes like it did in 1967, the taxpayers will be the losers.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.
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